Posts Tagged ‘Goose Lake’

By: Brett Booth, Guest Writer


Child gives peace sign during Goose Lake International Music Festival. Photo: Goose Lake Film Still. 

Child gives peace sign during Goose Lake International Music Festival. Photo: Goose Lake Film Still. 

“We were kind of looking around like, ‘wow, this is really happening.’ That’s just something you can’t explain. You never imagined in your wildest dreams that you’d ever attend something like that in your backyard,” said Bob Avel, Goose Lake International Music Festival attendee and historian. 

1970 had already seen The Beatles disband, the safe return of Apollo 13 and the tragedies at Kent State and Jackson State University.  The summer of love came and went and the Age of Aquarius was in its fleeting moments. The nation’s young were goo-goo eyed over Woodstock and a sizable group of young people started to attend what they called “Pop Festivals.” In 1970, Michigan was home to one of the largest music festivals of its era. 

A Southfield construction executive, Richard Songer, purchased 390-acres of land near Jackson, Michigan, in hopes to create the world’s first permanent festival site. The property had permanent bathrooms every 500 feet, a private beach, and the self-proclaimed “longest slide in the world.”

Songer had already held a country music festival and was looking to hold a large festival featuring rock music. In an effort to avoid some of the mistakes and shortcomings of other pop festivals, Songer brought Detroit disk jockey Tom Wright and his associate “Uncle” Ross Gibb onboard. Wright and Gibb had experience booking and promoting rock shows together in Detroit. 

Poker Chip Style Tickets Issued To Concert Goers.  Photo: Brett Booth

Poker Chip Style Tickets Issued To Concert Goers.  Photo: Brett Booth

One problem Songer, Wright, and Gibb saw with Woodstock was that out of the estimated 500,000 people that attended the festival, less than half actually paid. To address this issue, 12-foot tall fences were installed around the property to discourage “gatecrashing”. Poker chip-style tickets were even created in an effort to eliminate counterfeiting. 

The trio also saw some of the anxiety and problems at many pop festivals escalating during the stage changeover between bands. To virtually eliminate wait time between bands, Goose Lake Park featured a revolving stage. The turntable-style stage allowed one band to say their goodnights and as soon as the last note was struck, stagehands could push the stage around and another band would be set up and ready to play. 

Word began to spread about Goose Lake. Momentum began building and their first pop festival, Goose Lake International Music Festival, was being billed as “Michigan’s Woodstock”. National acts like Rod Stewart and The Faces, Jethro Tull, Chicago, Mountain, Ten Years After and John Sebastian were billed alongside Detroit favorites like The Stooges, Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, Savage Grace and SRC at Goose Lake Park, August, 7, 8 and 9. 

Unfortunately, not all the buildup to the festival was positive. Once locals in the small farming community heard there was going to be a large rock festival bringing in longhairs by the VW bus full, they began to speak at city council meetings, sign petitions and do everything in their power to prevent the festival.

Much to the disappointment of the locals, Songer, Wright, and Gibb acquired the proper permits and licenses to hold the event. Goose Lake International Music Festival was a go. 

The sun hung high in the August sky as the gates were set to open Thursday, August 6, 1970. The creators soon would find that their 60,000 person estimate would be far too conservative. Cars lined the long country roads for miles leading from Interstate-94. By the time the festival started Friday there were over 200,000 people at Goose Lake. 

“You can’t believe the energy that is emitted from that many people—I mean, you can’t explain it. And everybody there having a good time, it was like; you were in awe of it,” said Avel. 

Included in the $15 admission to the festival was a campsite and free firewood. Makeshift tents and sleeping bags littered the rolling hills of Goose Lake Park. Nude festival goers walked around freely and bathed in the lake. American flags hung from car windows and served as makeshift blankets. Every cause and subculture was represented at Goose Lake; bikers, Buddhists, civil rights groups and political parties. 

Inside the fence, cannabis and psychedelics were sold and used openly. The police officers outside the festival chose not to pursue any drug use inside the gates for fear of starting a riot. It’s important to note that while many festival goers were either drinking or consuming some sort of drug, this doesn’t hold true for all.  

“It’s interesting, you make these assumptions about huge crowds like that but then as I’ve talked to people since then, they go, ‘oh yeah, I was at the Goose Lake rock festival’ and some say, ‘yeah, I was smoking dope’ or ‘I was drinking’ or some, ‘oh yeah, I didn’t take anything, man. I didn’t like drugs but I dug the music’,” said Al Jacques, lead singer and bassist for Savage Grace. “You make these gross generalizations about crowds or generations or whatever and sometimes some of those gross generalizations are true but they are still gross generalizations.” 

Locals gawked across the lake at the invasion of “weirdos” who had come to takeover their town and compromise their morals. Party stores for miles were left with empty shelves and happy business owners. Film footage shot that weekend featured interviews with neighbors that commented on how polite and respectful the festival goers were, while in the same breath, explained they had their shotguns loaded just incase. 

Inside the gates, things remained peaceful. The weekend ended without any reports of violent crimes or death. A few dozen people were treated by medical staff but were all treated for sunburn or heat exhaustion—no drug related cases were reported. 

The weekend went off without a hitch—something Billboard Magazine praised the festival for. As for the rest of the press, Goose Lake didn’t receive the proper coverage, even back then. Rolling Stone and other large rock publications completely snubbed the festival.

“You have the East coast and the Left coast and you have all of us ‘flyover-people’ in the middle,” recalls Jacques. “I believe there was a conscious decision on their part to ignore the festival because they are and were the cultural centers of the world and how dare you have something as big as Woodstock.”

The rumor is, while Songer granted members of the press free admission, it was made very clear that the backstage area was for band members only and press was not welcome in the backstage area. Whatever the case, one of the largest festivals of its era came and went without much of a peep. 

 A festival dubbed “Goose Lake II” was planned for that Labor Day weekend and would feature Fleetwood Mac and Savoy Brown. This looked to be a great ending to an amazing event and the start of a new age for rock music in the Midwest; however, the powers that be had other plans. The State of Michigan drew charges on Richard Songer and later indicted him for promoting the sale of drugs. 

“Well, they had to have some reason to crucify the guy. I mean, you couldn’t go after him because he caused a parking problem. That doesn’t sound like a criminal. The minute you brought the drug word into it—now you’ve got people’s attention,” said Avel. “They didn’t want that to ever happen again. So, what’s the best way to do it? You look for the worst possible thing you can come up with.”

Remaining Speaker Towers at Greenwood Acres Campground. Photo: Brett Booth

Remaining Speaker Towers at Greenwood Acres Campground. Photo: Brett Booth

Goose Lake International Music Festival would be the first and last pop festival ever held at Goose Lake Park. The property spent a short time as a zoo before being converted into its current state as a campground. Bits and pieces of its rock ‘n’ roll history are hidden throughout the campground. The large steel-beamed speaker towers still stand alongside the stage that has since been converted into a rec center. 

Goose Lake may not go down in history as the most influential moment in rock history and will likely be left out of the conversation when talking about festivals like Woodstock, Altamont and Monterey Pop, but, the magic and mystery of Goose Lake will live on forever in the hearts and minds of those who attended this amazingly-beautiful, forgotten chapter of rock ‘n’ roll history.

Goose Lake. 1970.

A video posted by radioc00per (@radioc00per) on Jul 27, 2015 at 12:41pm PDT

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